Markey, Lowenthal to Reintroduce Bill Requiring US to Promote LGBTQ Rights Abroad

Two lawmakers on Wednesday announced they will reintroduce a bill that would require U.S. to promote LGBTQ rights abroad through its foreign policy.

California Congressman Alan Lowenthal and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) made the announcement about the International Human Rights Defense Act eight days after Secretary of State Antony Blinken was sworn in at the State Department.

The bill, among other things, would make the position of special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad in the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor permanent and raise it to an ambassador level position. A press release that Markey and Lowenthal's offices released on Wednesday also notes the bill would direct the State Department to "devise a global strategy to address discrimination against the LGBTQI community" and to "coordinate with local advocacy groups, governments, multilateral organizations and the private sector, to promote international LGBTQI human rights."

"The United States must reaffirm its support for the promotion and protection of LGBTQI rights around the world and reengage as a leader on these issues after four years of harmful and discriminatory policies," Markey said. "This legislation will make it clear that the United States is committed to protecting the human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The COVID-19 crisis has put LGBQTI communities all around the world at greater risk and this moment requires a concerted and global effort to recommit to the protection of human rights everywhere."

State Department criticizes Indonesia caning, Turkey arrests

Former Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015 announced the creation of the envoy position. It has remained unfilled since 2017.

Blinken during his confirmation hearing pledged to raise the envoy to an ambassador level position. Blinken also said he would "repudiate" the Commission for Unalienable Rights — which sought to stress "natural laws and natural rights" — that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in 2019.

A State Department spokesperson on Tuesday noted Blinken during his confirmation hearing said he "will appoint an LGBTQI+ envoy," but stressed there are currently no "details to share regarding the staffing of the special envoy."

The State Department late last week criticized the public caning of two men in Indonesia's Aceh province after their neighbors caught them having sex.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Wednesday during his daily press briefing expressed concern over the detention of more than 150 people in Istanbul who were protesting the arrest of four students at the city's Boƒüazi√ßi University after they used pictures of a Pride flag to represent the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site that is located at the center of Mecca's Grand Mosque. Media reports indicate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoƒüan on Monday in a televised speech accused the country's LGBTQ rights movement of engaging in "vandalism."

The protests began in January after Erdoğan appointed Melih Bulu, a member of his ruling Justice and Development Party, as the university's new rector.

"We are concerned by detentions of students and other demonstrators and strongly condemn the anti-LGBTQI rhetoric surrounding the demonstrations," Price said. "Freedom of expression, even speech that some may find uncomfortable, is a critical component of a vibrant, functioning democracy that must be protected. Peaceful, prosperous and inclusive societies depend on the free flow of information and ideas."

"The United States prioritizes the protection of human rights and stands shoulder to shoulder with all those fighting for their fundamental democratic freedoms," he added.

The Trump administration in 2019 tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, who is openly gay, to lead an initiative that encouraged countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. ILGA World Executive Director André du Plessis and other LGBTQ activists with whom the Washington Blade has previously spoken questioned the campaign's effectiveness.

"Over the last four years, LGBTQI people have been at the forefront of vicious attacks, our basic rights questioned in countries around the world and by the highest office in the US. This is precisely why we need the International Human Rights Defense Act," said OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern in the press release that Markey and Lowenthal released. "LGBTQI people cannot be left to suffer because of changes in the White House.  We need the IHRDA to ensure that the U.S. protects and upholds LGBTQI rights as a consistent, integrated and essential foreign policy priority."

This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.